Thursday, December 1, 2016

(Sports) MMA: Congratulations UFC, you played yourself

Every organization suffers self inflicted wounds once in a while but no company in the world cuts its nose to spite its face more than the $4 billion MMA behemoth that is the UFC. 

The UFC can largely get away with these self inflicted wounds because they're far and away the biggest MMA promotion on face of the earth, have the best talent in the sport on their books, and with the recent sale to WME/IMG, are the most valuable sports franchise in American sports. 

However, with the recent formation of the Mixed Martial Arts Athlete Association that sports Georges St Pierre, former chairman and CEO of Bellator Bjorn Rebney, former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and former bantamweight king TJ Dillashaw as its members, the UFC may have to contend with possibly the strongest bid yet to bring collective bargaining into MMA. 

The nascent association also includes fan favorite Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and Army Veteran Tim Kennedy which rounds up an impressive cast of elite level fighters in their prime. One of the big problems other organizations such as the Professional Fighters Association had in bringing collective bargaining into MMA was their inability to get prominent UFC fighters on board but with the MMAAA already attracting championship and top ten level fighters among its ranks out the gate suggests that this obstacle won't be much of a problem for MMAAA going forward. 

While the MMAAA hasn't revealed much in the way of a strategy or gameplan to take on the might of the UFC, MMAAA has two things going for it, Bjorn Rebney, a lawyer by trade and who knows MMA inside out and GSP, a much respected and admired former champion who could help recruit more fighters and possibly played a part in attracting the names the organization already has as members. 

However, MMAAA are hamstrung by the simple but crucial fact that the UFC have all the cards in their favour. They're by far the biggest promotion in the sport and have the best talent which means the UFC can and almost certainly will act as if MMAAA doesn't exist despite MMAAA already enjoying the backing of some of their best fighters.        

Despite this, there are plenty of chinks in the UFC's impressive armor, most troublingly its relationship with its fighters. Because the UFC is by far the biggest promotion in MMA, the UFC tends use its dominant position to undermine its fighters or make decisions that impact fighters directly without their input. The most flagrant example of this was the UFC's apparel deal with Reebok which was clearly hammered out without the input of their fighters. Because of Reebok deal, fighters lost thousands in sponsorship money which in some cases outstripped their show and prize money combined. 
The UFC wouldn't have been able to do this if fighters were represented by a strong union who could hold the UFC's feet to the fire which is why you'll have a hard time finding a member of MMA community who isn't in favour of fighters unionizing.  

While there are some concerns about MMAAA intentions particularly surrounding the involvement of Bjorn Rebney and his history in dealing with fightersthe MMAAA is possibly the best positioned effort so far to unionize the fighters though it remains to be seen how they plan to proceed. 

In sum, The UFC hasn't been shy about putting its interest first over it fighters but with the recent sale to WME/IMG and recent exit from one of its biggest market suggest the MMAAA has picked the right time strike the UFC as it may have played itself into a corner. 

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